North Miami - NMB

Florida cop who called the Parkland kids 'paid actors' trained with one of their dads

In a post to his public Facebook page, North Miami Beach police officer Ericson Harrell calls a group of student leaders from Parkland "paid actors." He is now under internal investigation for social media posts made after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting.
In a post to his public Facebook page, North Miami Beach police officer Ericson Harrell calls a group of student leaders from Parkland "paid actors." He is now under internal investigation for social media posts made after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting. Facebook/Ericson Harrell

The South Florida cop under internal investigation for calling Parkland student leaders "paid actors" and questioning if "payoff money" factored into school shootings spent about a year in police academy with Jeff Kasky, the father of shooting survivor and student activist Cameron Kasky.

Known online as the "Penitent Cop," North Miami Beach officer Ericson Harrell became the subject of an internal probe on Friday for a handful of public social media posts he made after the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the Sun Sentinel first reported.

"What proof do you have?" Harrell wrote on Facebook on March 29 in a post now under scrutiny. "What evidence do you have, that anyone was killed other than #MSM (Mainstream Media) accounts, alleged witnesses and a couple of funeral processions? #StonemanDouglas #SandyHook."

Jeff Kasky, who told the Miami Herald he spent about 11 months training with Harrell in 1998, said he could have given Harrell all the proof he needed that his son wasn't a government pawn.

"This guy knows me personally," Kasky said. "How can he possibly think that this is true?"

His son Cameron, a junior, is among the most prominent student leaders that emerged after the school shooting. He founded the #NeverAgain movement against gun violence and helped organize the March for Our Lives that consumed Washington, D.C., and spread to cities across the world on March 24.

Student Gun Protests (5)
Cameron Kasky Andrew Harnik AP

Kasky, who remembers Harrell as a "terrific leader" and a brother, said Harrell served in the Marines and then as a team leader during their time at the Metro-Dade Police Academy at Miami-Dade College. Kasky went on to serve as a reserve cop registered with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, he said.

"I know that he's a very good person. I don't know what happened to him," Kasky said. "I wish him the very, very best. I wish he would have called to ask me, 'Why is your name involved?' before spouting this nonsense."

Harrell, who has spent nearly 20 years with the North Miami Beach police, is very active on social media and he has a YouTube channel that documents his hobby of taking metal detectors to beaches and also features videos of him addressing topics like police brutality and government conspiracies.

Harrell listed his occupation on Facebook as a "Russia insider" and uses an inverted American flag as his profile picture. Directly after the shooting, on Feb. 15, he began focusing his "question everything" methods on the Parkland shooting, which killed 14 students and three faculty members.

"What if the cops went into school and shot and kill some students?!" he asked in a post one day after the shooting. "Would they be forthcoming? Lawsuits would help to find out."

In a Feb. 19 post, Harrell questioned why some mass shooters have chosen to terrorize more affluent cities like Parkland.

"Have you noticed these 'mass school shootings' occur in wealthy communities?" he asked. "Then afterwards millions of dollars are dumped into them. Payoff money??"

In a Feb. 21 post, he wondered why accused crisis actors, like Cameron Kasky, haven't brought their accusers to court.

"Why hasn't anybody accused of being a crisis actor filed a single defamation lawsuit?" he said, quoting another Facebook page. "Could it be because truth is an absolute defense?"

As his arrest record shows, Harrell isn't known to keep quiet about his "question everything" politics.

In 2013, the Sun Sentinel reports, police arrested Harrell for refusing to take off a mask during his one-man Obamacare protest staged on a Plantation sidewalk. Cops couldn't convince Harrell from taking off his smiling and mustached Guy Fawkes mask from the movie "V for Vendetta," which at the time had been adopted by the hacktivist group Anonymous. Harrell was arrested, but not officially charged, for obstruction of traffic and wearing a hood or mask on a street.

In 2015, the newspaper reported, Harrell's department docked him 20 hours pay for violating department policies, including spending too much time browsing Facebook, Youtube and conspiracy theory websites while at work.

Kasky said he reached out to Harrell after his arrest and sent him a friend request on Facebook. Soon after, he said, it was apparent Harrell had become a subscriber to the "conspiracy theory subculture" that believes 9/11 was an "inside job" and the government is controlling the weather.

He has since deleted him as a friend.

"I haven't been in touch with him for years," Kasky said. "It's not the Eric that I know."

In the seven weeks since a former student smuggled an AR-15 onto the Marjory Stoneman Douglas campus and unleashed a barrage of gunfire in the schools' hallways and inside classrooms, the students and parents speaking out against gun violence and the gun lobby have received death threats and have been the subject of far-right conspiracies on social media.

Kasky, who said he once ran an adoption service, has been falsely accused of trafficking children and conspiring with the Clintons. But he says the progress his son and classmates have achieved makes the threats and online harassment seem trivial.

After Florida passed a school safety bill in March that imposed some of the state's first gun restrictions in three decades, the Village of Deerfield in Illnois just this week passed an assault-weapons ban, which remains the goal for the #NeverAgain organizers.

"That's what's getting me through," he said. "The successes these students are having."

An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the North Miami Beach Police Department.